U.S. Chamber of Commerce. April 29, 2014.
The recent editorial in The Washington Post fairly expressed concern about the Education Department’s proposed rule on gainful employment, which conspicuously targets the for-profit sector. The U.S. Chamber agrees with the sentiment expressed and would add a critical concern—limiting opportunities to close the pervasive skills gap and provide critical pathways for gaining the education and skills individuals need, and employers require, is extremely short-sided in today’s economy.
Too often—in good economic times and in bad—low-income populations are hit the hardest and the consequences of this ruling are no exception. As our country faces an increasingly widening skills gap, now hardly seems the time to strip at-risk students of opportunities for educational equality. A high school diploma simply won’t get a foot in the door; a postsecondary credential or training is now the bare minimum to even be considered for a job.
For-profit institutions do serve at-risk student populations—and rightfully tout that as a reason for their existence. These institutions are often the first, along with community colleges, to answer the call of employers when they require training to skill up their workforce or recruit new employees. Our economy depends on a variety of educational providers to address the needs of working adults—providers that can meet them where they are—at home, at night, while juggling a family and a job.
We agree that poor programs should be evaluated and in some cases, weeded out. But by no means should such a practice be limited to one sector over another. If we are truly going to “put higher education on notice,” why propose an arbitrary regulation that does nothing to address quality, provide greater accountability, or even address the rising costs of higher education? Business and education providers alike would greatly benefit from better alignment between the classroom and the workforce. But that’s not what the gainful employment test would do.
We need to refocus attention on our end goal: making sure all students, no matter their financial situation or age, have an opportunity to improve their lives through education.
Simply put, the gainful employment rule will place additional barriers on an already difficult to reach population. We’re interested in looking for ways to expand access and success for low-income students, not limit them.